Shadowy Façade

digitally doctored photo

There are endless supplies of guides on How To do something-or-anything; I’m more concerned with How Not to Do It. Much of the how-to tutorials seem aimed more at giving us a gloss of respectability in the subject, a sort of facade of excellence, than actual, practical depth. Expertise is, obviously, a relative thing, after all. It’s not all that hard to be considered an expert in or at something that is very rare or an extremely new discovery or invention: lack of exposure guarantees that few can have mastery. A whole lot more, however, is skill or knowledge that takes a dedicated effort to master to any level of real expertise.

My greatest expertise, if I can be said to have any, is probably in the category of performing ‘filler’ duties in most of the activities I try. Work as I may, I’m not likely to become great at most, and I seldom find learning anything all that easily or swiftly done. Being naturally lazy, I’m even less often found pursuing new knowledge and skills with great rigor and vigor just for their own sakes. So at best, I tend to end somewhere in the middle of the pack. I like to think of myself as the necessary delineator between the great and the mediocre.

All silliness aside, this seems to me an age in which we, collectively, have lost our appreciation for true expertise. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I get the sense that somewhere between the assumption that a speedy dash through Wikipedia will provide all the wisdom we need on any topic and our fascination with outliers—finding the novelty of savants and overnight sensations far more exciting than hardworking earned-doctorate intelligence—and the sense of entitlement our privileged modern existence gives us, we lose touch with the value of elbow grease and passion.

I wasn’t born either brilliant or extraordinarily gifted, and I’m not ashamed of that. But it’d be a pity to go to my grave without having tried to improve on what few bits of intelligence and invention I do have. If I manage to do my best in the present and keep moving toward an elevated horizon, I may not change the world for the better by a single degree, but I will certainly have bettered myself and I might have the slightest chance of shedding a little light around me as I go.

Looks like I’d better get moving!

Everything is Rehearsal

photoIf we are willing to listen, learn, and practice, everything that happens can be rehearsal for a better performance the next time. Musicians know this. We should all recognize it.

Being perfect isn’t the goal. Even being exactly the same each time isn’t it. Mechanically identical reproduction of an event or a feeling or an occasion is for machines; life is messier and more complicated and more artful than that and means we have to be ready to use all that we’ve learned in all of our rehearsals, combined in whatever way gets us the best result in the present moment. It means, too, that what is the best solution for that moment may not be reproducible or even desirable next time. A CD is a lovely evocation of memory but the live performance takes hold of us down to the soul in a very different way.

I want to become better at whatever I am. Some of the betterment may come fairly easily as I recognize more clearly what I am, as I grow older and have more experiences and find my way through more of my life’s journey, picking up clews as I go. More of it will happen, if at all, because I work hard to improve myself in one way and another.

There’s no guarantee that any given moment or event will find me at my best, or even that I will become the best version of myself that I am capable of being no matter how long I live. But I’ll certainly have a better shot at any of that if I commit to practicing.photo

Getting in Touch with (My) Nature

I’m sorry to say I’m not cut out to be the savior of the planet. I’m not even very good at saving coupons or saving your reverence. There are lots of saints and superheroes better suited than I am to rescuing goodness, health and happiness. I’m just pleased with myself if I can get the recycling out on time for pickup, fix the wiggly leg on a chair so I don’t have to get a whole new chair to replace it, pull up about six weeds about twice a week. My part in world betterment will always be a smallish one.

But I do have a part in it. I’m ready and willing to play it. One little thing that is on my list of preferred universe-improvement techniques is to work on gradually including a bit less in my daily eating habits and freeing up those calories for people who actually need them more. Ideally, I’d like to find a few ways to see that those people who actually need them get them as well, whether it’s because I feed them myself with my cooking or my modest attempts at micro-mini-farming (I expect to successfully grow up to eighteen vegetables in this season alone), or because I support causes that are better equipped to feed them through charitable or communal means.

Another dainty little improvement I am willing and possibly even able to make in the condition of the quality of life as it exists on this planet is to find more ways to make less waste. I am researching how to capture both the rainwater falling on and the grey-water produced in my house for reuse and distribution in the garden. In Texas, that’s not just a potential money-saver but if drought conditions like last summer’s return or persist, a potential life-saver. But it shouldn’t be too terribly hard. The water’s there. It just needs to be corralled and redirected to where it can be most useful. It’s a natural adjunct to the aforementioned dinky farm-let of a garden with pint-sized patches of vegetables, plus a greater devotion to native, drought-resistant and wildlife friendly plantings that should, over time, reduce the whole yard’s dependence on additional water, provide a bit more natural cover and food for the local bugs and beasts and birds, and ultimately, require less maintenance and far less artificial or chemical intervention to preserve it all in vigorous health and beauty.

My self-improvement plot is mighty simple by comparison even to these extremely modest proposals. I’m just going to try to give in to my less-than-ideal motives and personality quirks less frequently than is my native inclination. I’m going to push myself to consciously and conscientiously do more of the nicer and better and more productive things I am capable of doing, more of the time. Beyond this I’m not certain I can go–but my plans being undersized as they are, I hope that I have just that much more chance of making my individual pin-prick of a difference for the better in my portion of creation, however puny, circumscribed or insignificant it may be. Better by far than not making the attempt. Reality is overwhelming and bemusing enough. Why not work on tweaking it one sweet, precious atom, if I can?

graphite drawing

This is where I landed. Where can I fly from here?